How cloud computing can offer charities benefits

Digital transformation is changing the way organisations work across every industry. The benefits of embracing innovative tech like cloud computing are well-documented, but still, the charity sector seems to be lagging behind.

With 92% of tech-focused charities reporting an expected increase in their measurable impact—including increased donations and increased productivity—thanks to their investment in technology, it’s clear that charities which don’t make digital transformation a priority risk being held back.

The Lloyds Bank UK Digital Business Index 2016 report even found that charities which are in tune with digital developments are 28% more likely to attract additional funding. Yet research from Tech Trust shows that 58% of charities don’t have a defined digital strategy in place.

Costs, skills gaps and a lack of understanding about how tech can impact operations are all reasons why charities might be slow to adopt cloud computing, but transformation is no longer optional. Advances in IT are changing the day-to-day lives of donors, beneficiaries, employees and stakeholders, and if charities want to continue to operate efficiently, they need to get in step.

Here are just a few ways that adopting cloud-first digital strategies can help charities drive their missions forward:

Doing more with less

Using the cloud gives charities access to tools that help them be more productive—tools that they may not have been able to access previously using software that had to be paid for upfront and installed on-site.

Not only that, using the cloud strips away the need to devote time and resource to maintaining IT infrastructure in-house. The benefit of this can’t be underestimated, especially within charities where time and money are often tight, and delivery of service can be a case of life and death.

Cloud isn’t an all-or-nothing concept; you don’t need to jump straight to running all of your infrastructure, operating systems and software online. You can start with a cloud service or two and slowly scale up your cloud platforms as and when you’re ready.

But the more you do utilise cloud platforms, the less time and resource you need to spend on maintaining hardware, upgrading software, and making sure all of your IT assets are working as they should. Not having to worry about things like internal servers can free your staff and your budget up for bigger and better things.

Charities are using cloud platforms to easily create and deploy custom tools that help them deliver their services more efficiently, whether this means making short work of administrative processes or connecting to recipients.

Age UK recently built its own internal app to help staff better record data when engaging with their service users. The app also surfaces topics of conversation and shareable action plans to help employees deliver the best assistance they can. Having all of this information on one central platform creates a single source of truth, making the information staff need easily accessible and ensuring nothing is siloed. Digitising these processes has also made them scalable, enabling the charity to reach and help more people.

Cultivating innovation 

Cloud technology makes it easy to utilise formidable features and services that simply could not run on most organisations’ in-house hardware. By consuming a cloud-based service, you’re essentially able to take advantage of all the power and innovation of a company like Microsoft or Google without having to invest staggering amounts of money to create these tools yourself.

Charity leaders are beginning to use the ground-breaking facilities offered by cloud tech to drive their organisations forward, and develop new, improved ways of doing things. Of course, charities can’t begin to innovate without fully understanding their current operations and their customers and supporters.

One of the most transformative tools charities can access through the cloud is big data analysis. The cloud makes it easier to store, manage, analyse and derive valuable insights from unfathomable quantities of data. You can’t improve what you don’t track, so being able to access powerful analytical software and make more informed decisions is imperative for charities which want to innovate and serve their evolving audiences to a higher standard than ever before.

Developing new strategies for raising awareness and attracting donations is especially crucial in today’s landscape, where the advent of GDPR has impacted charities’ use of direct marketing.

Despite the growing bearing that data analysis has on success, research suggests that charities aren’t making the most of the information at their fingertips. A recent report by Salesforce found that less than half of charities can properly analyse the data they generate and collect on donors, volunteers and service users.

Using data-driven insights to inform strategy can have a major impact on the effectiveness of both service delivery and fundraising, as Blue Cross discovered with its recent “pat and tap” donation drive.

With research by YouGov indicating that one in seven people don’t donate because they don’t carry cash, Blue Cross sought a creative way to remove that barrier, raise awareness with a new audience, and bring their fundraising efforts up to date with consumer behaviour.

Using guide dogs wearing vests equipped with contactless payment technology, Blue Cross staged several field fundraising events during which people could make a £2 donation quickly and in an engaging way.

With cloud-based tools like big data analysis platform Hadoop, and Microsoft’s user-friendly Power BI business intelligence software, charities can tap into the enormous potential of data analysis without the need to create internal data warehouses or employ teams of data scientists.

Protecting your data

The Government’s Cyber Security Breaches 2018 survey discovered that three quarters of charities with annual incomes of more than £5m had been the victim of cyber-attacks or data breaches in the past year. Yet only one in five UK charities have a cybersecurity policy—and just 8% have procedures in place to deal with a cybersecurity incident.

Data is increasingly the lifeblood of modern charities, and safeguarding that data is paramount for charities of all shapes and sizes. For charities, data breaches can be especially destructive.

Failure to protect the data of your benefactors and your beneficiaries can result in steep fines—particularly since the introduction of GDPR last year. Having to fork out over data breaches is bad enough, but the damage done to your charity’s reputation, and by extension, your supporters’ willingness to hand over their details and their contributions, can have a lasting effect on your ability to attract donations and achieve objectives.

Last year, there was a six-fold increase in charities reporting data breaches to ICO. Among those affected was the British and Foreign Bible Society, which was fined £100,000 after its lax network security allowed hackers to access the data of 417,000 of its supporters.

Cybercriminals don’t discriminate, and their tactics get more sophisticated every day. The charity sector clearly needs to develop a clear understanding of the risks, and appreciate that for any organisation, it’s not a case of if they’ll be targeted, but when.

If not appropriately managed, cloud computing can open up new avenues of risk for charities. But the good news is that, in much the same way that infrastructure can be managed externally when using the cloud, providers offer high-level security to protect your systems. These security features are all maintained at the vendor’s end, making sure your data is as secure as possible without you having to monitor security internally.

Attracting the best talent

The modern charity workplace has changed dramatically over the past few decades, and today’s charity workforce wants to work for charities which are making the most of the digital platforms on offer. Flexibility, collaboration, and access to smart tools are the new standards at which charities have to operate not only to compete, but to attract great talent.

Take automation, for example. According to research by Insights for Professionals, using cloud-powered AI and machine learning platforms to automate certain duties increases happiness within teams, freeing them from repetitive tasks and giving them space to work on more creative elements of the operation.

Marketing is a massive consideration for charities. You want to let people know about your cause, your work, and inspire them to help. And you’re often doing this on a very limited budget. Offering a largely hands-off way to build and maintain relationships with your donors, marketing automation software can send highly personalised emails based on donor actions and other pre-defined settings.

If someone donates to your charity, you can automatically send them a thank you message. You can send them periodic updates that reflect how they’ve previously engaged with you. You can send them a message on their birthday. With this type of automation, you know your message is being seen, and relationships are being fostered, without your team having to administrate these actions themselves.

By taking certain tasks off their plates, automation helps your workforce be more productive, achieve a better work-life balance, and gives them more time for learning and development—all of which are core factors in job satisfaction in charities.

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